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Is Alex Semin being held to a higher standard than other Caps players?

My brother Pat wasn’t happy with Alex Ovechkin’s effort defensively on the Rangers first goal in Game 1 of their second round playoff series. He tweeted, “The listless, one hand on the stick effort in support of his D man who was clearly beaten is not really my thing.”

I hadn’t noticed this during the game. I was mostly focused on watching Artem Anisimov out-muscle Mike Green. But I tend to agree with my brother on this one. Where was the Ovechkin that seems to relish crushing opposing players with an explosive hit? This would have been a great time for one of those. At the very least, just a solid shoulder or a strong poke check might have done the job. I can’t help but wonder if Ovechkin would have had more spring in his step had this instead been an opportunity for a big play in the offensive zone.

Artem Anisimov scores in Game 1

Somewhat related to this, Alexander Semin has been demoted to the fourth line for Game 2.

Semin took two penalties in Game 1, one for unwisely retaliating after being slashed by a Ranger player and another for tripping a player while forechecking. The second penalty didn’t bother me much, as it appeared he was going for the puck and got too aggressive.

Caps’ Coach Dale Hunter told reporters regarding Semin, “We need him to score goals for us, we need him to play good on the power play.” (Note: Semin leads the team in both goals and power play goals so far in the playoffs.)

As I said via Twitter earlier today, I don’t care a great deal either way about Semin’s move to the fourth line. Maybe it will pay off through a more balanced set of lines or perhaps it will motivate Semin and we’ll see a big game from him. However, I do find it odd that Semin gets banished to the fourth line, while other highly-skilled offensive players on the team often don’t when they’re guilty of less-than-stellar play. Nor do I think they should necessarily.

For example, Nicklas Backstrom’s lack of hustle cost the Caps a goal in Game 6 against the Bruins (I’m not talking about the game-winning goal that was a result of his turnover and was easier to forgive). Marcus Johannson has been giving the puck away far too often these playoffs with careless passes. Ovechkin took a bad penalty Saturday against the Rangers for tripping, put in a questionable defensive effort on the Ranger goal highlighted above and was kept off the score sheet like Semin, but there’s no way Ovi or Backstrom is going to get demoted to the fourth line—and for good reason. Yet Semin does?

Maybe there’s more to the Semin story than I’m aware of as a spectator who isn’t in the locker room, but the higher standard Semin seems to be held to confuses me. Even the league seemed to have something against the guy when he was the first 40 goal scorer I know of to be left off the All-Star ballot the next season (I don’t mean Semin just didn’t make the game…I mean he scored 40 goals and then you couldn’t even vote for him unless you wrote him in).

NBC’s Pierre McGuire doesn’t give Semin a break, even when he’s scored a goal on more than one occasion right after McGuire calls him out. As NHL.com writer Dave Lozo recently noted, “Alex Semin is the only guy who can score on national TV and have people spend the next 5 minutes questioning why he doesn’t try. Amazing.”

ESPN and Washington Post contributor Neil Greenberg said on Twitter today, “Surprised ppl continue to underappreciate Caps Semin’s contributions beyond points (and off zone penalties). If he walks, tough to replace.” Greenberg also did a statistical analysis last fall about how the criticism of Semin is unfair.

I don’t deny that there are occasions when Semin is—like many players—deserving of some criticism. However, I find it odd that other key Caps make mistakes and it doesn’t become half the story it does when Semin isn’t playing the way people would like him to.

But putting all that aside, if the demotion of Semin to the fourth line for tonight’s game results in a two-goal night, Hunter’s a genius.

Pierre McGuire needs to rethink his Alex Semin narrative

The Washington Capitals played on the NBC Sports Network twice in the course of nine days recently, with Pierre McGuire “Inside the Glass”.  In both games, McGuire called out Caps winger Alex Semin and in both games Semin, within a minute of McGuire’s comment, put his name on the score sheet with a play that showcased his immense skill.  What I find most frustrating about the commentary is not that McGuire rehashed the same old “Semin is an enigma” narrative, but that he refuses to reevaluate the merit of the narrative in the face of evidence that should compel him to do so.

The first incident was the Caps-Wild game on March 25.  I’ve been unable to find the footage of McGuire bashing Semin, but here is a clip of the goal where you can deduce what McGuire had previously said based off of his analysis of the goal.

Just before that clip begins, McGuire said that the Caps “need more” from Semin and that he isn’t moving his feet or giving a good enough effort.  The game was tied 0-0 in the 2nd period, so it is fair to say at that point that both teams “need more” from any player, not just Semin, that they were relying on for contributions offensively.

In the 2nd period this past Monday night, Semin hit the post on a great chance in front and then just a moment later rifled a shot past Dwayne Roloson to give the Caps a 1-0 lead over Tampa Bay.  This launched McGuire into full Semin/enigma mode.

McGuire’s analysis was already astutely broken down here, but my point is similar. Is the sequence in the Tampa game really justification for McGuire’s position?  Or is it perhaps a chance for McGuire to reevaluate his narrative?  Was Alex Semin’s performance against Minnesota really one that merited him being singled out as the player that wasn’t contributing enough?  Or was McGuire taking the easy and lazy way out?

This wouldn’t be the first time that Semin was inaccurately evaluated by those outside of Caps-land.  After all, in 2010, Semin was quite possibly the first player to score 40 goals and then be left off the All-Star ballot the following season.  In present day within Caps-land, a couple of well-respected voices have spoken up in support of Semin.  Neil Greenberg recently looked at Semin’s value to the Caps and concluded the team should bring him back when his contract expires at the end of the season.  During the aforementioned Caps game vs. Minnesota, Alan May made an even bolder claim about Semin’s value to the Caps.

My point here is not to suggest that McGuire is absolutely wrong in his assessment of Semin (although, I would conclude that he is, but again, that’s not my point here), but instead that Semin’s immediate rebuttals to his comments are examples of why McGuire should at least reexamine his narrative.  Perhaps McGuire would still conclude Semin is an enigma, even if he took a harder look at the notion. However, isn’t it time that he at least takes his commentary on the Caps’ winger off auto-pilot?

The Crosby hit on Schenn before the cross-check

Yesterday, an observant BrooksLaichyear commenter pointed out that, just prior to Brayden Schenn’s cross-check on Sidney Crosby during the Flyers’ 6-4 victory over the Penguins on Sunday, Crosby took a run at Schenn. Check out the 10 second mark of the video below.

It looks like Mike Milbury noticed Crosby’s hit on Schenn too

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